Quiet second half costly to Rice
Silence may be golden to a librarian, but a basketball coach wants to hear a little noisemaking every so often.
Brother Rice boss Rick Harrigan certainly got that from the home crowd, which was larger than anticipated on a snowy Saturday afternoon. And through the first half of the Crusaders’ Chicago Catholic League contest against rival St. Rita, his players — particularly Quinn Niego — were equally loud.
Niego’s 15 points helped Rice carry a 24-22 lead over the heralded Mustangs into intermission, although Harrigan thought the margin could have been a little greater. The Crusaders hurried through their final possession of the opening half, missed two shots during it, and then watched St. Rita get within a deuce.
“We broke down a little bit at the end,” Harrigan said. “St. Rita has a good team, one that could challenge for state honors, and when a team like that gets momentum it’s tough to stop them.”
Sure enough, Harrigan’s fears were realized when play resumed. Not only did the Mustangs get their own offense humming, but their use of a switching man-to-man defense quieted Niego over the last 16 minutes.
Victor Law, Charles Matthews and Treston Forbes took turns guarding Niego, who added only four points to his total. And with no one else stepping forward on Rice’s behalf to pick up some of the scoring slack, the Crusaders were unable to rally once they fell in arrears.
Rice went just 4-of-16 from the floor in the second half and generated a mere 11 points, a dry spell that helped tag it with a 50-35 loss.
“I was proud of our kids for the way they fought, but there’s not many weak links you can exploit with a team like St. Rita,” Harrigan said. “Once they get in a groove, it’s hard to get them out of it.”
Before halftime, Niego took advantage of the Mustangs’ zone defense, where he “could roam around and find some [open] room.” But even with his first-half heroics against his former school factored in, the Crusaders (10-10, 4-5) connected on only 33 percent of their shots for the day. No significant help was forthcoming from the line, either.
No other Rice player tallied more than four points, and that included Niego’s usual sidekick, Ray Rubio. Harrigan said Rubio was “still a beast in other areas,” an opinion validated by his team leadership in rebounds and assists, but the Crusaders missed his typical double-digit scoring on this occasion.
Rice was guilty of only nine turnovers, but because of its lack of scoring punch it managed to record just three assists.
Law (15 points, seven rebounds, two steals), Dominique Matthews (11 points) and Charles Matthews (10) were the offensive mainstays for St. Rita, which fired away at a 57 percent clip. The Mustangs missed eight of their first nine field-goal attempts, but posted an 11-of-16 success rate during the second half.
“Our guys were pretty distraught after that game,” Harrigan said. “We’re [still] looking for that win that will stick out and get us going. We’ve got some good wins, but we want to beat a highly ranked team.
“We’re still working upwards. I don’t know if 17-year-olds buy that, but if we continue to fight, maybe we can play our best ball down the stretch, when it means the most. That’s kind of what we’re trying to tell them.”
Brother Rice 63
St. Francis de Sales 56
A 25-point explosion in the third period gave the Crusaders the juice necessary to finally pull away from the Pioneers Friday night. Niego (24 points) was once again Rice’s ringleader, but this time he had a fair amount of assistance as Rubio (12 points, six rebounds, four assists), Connor Finn (12 points) and Dan Scanlon (8 points) all made measurable contributions.
The Crusaders’ assists-to-turnovers total was a more acceptable 12-8, and they shot 51 percent from the floor, which included a 38 percent display (8-of-21) from behind the arc. Niego delivered half of those 3-balls.
St. Francis de Sales, which is playing for its second head coach this year and its third since the 2012-13 season, stayed afloat by canning 56 percent of its field-goal tries.
“They’ve been going through some turnover in their program, but if they get some continuity, I think they can be pretty good,” Harrigan said of the Pioneers. “They have good players, [including] a couple nice wings.”
Rice will seek to climb back over the .500 plateau on Friday, when it visits De La Salle for another Catholic League encounter.
St. Francis de Sales 13 14 16 13 - 56
Brother Rice 14 14 25 10 - 63
Brother Rice Scoring: Niego 24, Finn 12, Rubio 12, Scanlon 8, Conlisk 3, Mueller 2, Shepski 2. Rebounds: Rubio 6. Assists: Rubio 4.
St. Rita 9 13 15 13 - 50
Brother Rice 12 12 4 7 - 35
Brother Rice Scoring: Niego 19, Mueller 4, Rubio 4, Finn 3, Scanlon 3, Gallagher 2. Rebounds: Rubio 4. Assists: Rubio 2.